Program : 
Sophisticated Ladies & Red Hot Mommas

Ma Rainey and her band, 1923. Image courtesy

Heartbreakers, man-takers, vamps, tramps and the girl next door—through the decades they've all shown up in song. Songwriters are forever trying to decipher the feminine mystique, and singers never tire of crooning about the many aspects of the female spirit.  


New Orleans vocalist Topsy Chapman,  2009. Photo by Jamie Karutz

In the spotlight on Riverwalk Jazz, New Orleans' Topsy Chapman joins The Jim Cullum Jazz Band at The Landing to separate 'sophisticated ladies' from 'red-hot mommas.' And it takes a versatile artist like Topsy to cover a range of style and mood—from the growl of "Aggravatin' Papa Don't You Two-Time Me" to the purr of "Time on My Hands and You in My Arms."   Topsy says she thinks of herself as an actress on a movie set when she performs songs like these. She says, "I step into character and just feel whatever she's feeling." This week, Topsy is our guide through a program of 'hot rhythm' numbers, blues, and a torch song or two.  


Sophie Tucker. Photo courtesy Reminiscing with Sissle & Blake by Robert Kimball & William Bolcom

Sophie Tucker (1884-1966) billed herself as 'The Last of the Red Hot Mommas,' but she wasn't the first woman to build a career telling off-color jokes and belting out bawdy songs. Her act was inspired by the success of Deep South blues queens like Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey and her Rabbit Foot Minstrels. Offstage, Tucker was a fiery union organizer and great philanthropist. She blazed a trail for other finger-shaking hotties—from Bessie Smith to Tina Turner and Madonna.   Topsy Chapman celebrates the spirit of 'red hot mommas' everywhere with the irreverent "'Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do," a classic of early blues recorded in 1923 by both Alberta Hunter and Bessie Smith—two giants of the genre.  


Alberta Hunter. Photo courtesy jazzagemusic.blogspot.

On the opposite end of the spectrum she offers songs about home, like  "Back in Your Own Back Yard" and the haunting "I've Got the Blues for Home Sweet Home." The Jim Cullum Jazz Band presents instrumental renditions of "Sophisticated Lady" and "There Ain't No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears." And Topsy sings the classic Billie Holiday torch songs "In My Solitude" and "Time on My Hands."  


Photo credit for Home Page: Sophie Tucker. Publicity photo courtesy vitaphone.blogspot.